“Human rights lawyer Pam Spees delivered boxes containing over 20,000 pages of evidence to the ICC today [Tuesday, Sept 14, 2011] and asked the prosecutor to begin an investigation. The complaint alleges that the pope and three cardinals – Angelo Sodano, Tarcisio Bertone and William Levada – deliberately covered up abuse by priests.” – Robert Chesal
At a press conference near The Hague, eight adults who were abused as children held up their childhood portraits and told the press the names of the Roman Catholic priests who had targeted them. All were members of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. They included victims from the USA, Germany, Belgium and the Democratic Republic of Congo. SNAP’s lawyers say all the cases were kept secret by the Vatican in a cover-up that amounts to a crime against humanity.
The victims present included Wilfried Fesselmann (43), who was abused at the age of 11 in Essen, Germany, by a priest who was subsequently transferred to Munich by then-Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI). The case was known at the highest levels of the Vatican but the priest went unpunished until the church sexual abuse scandal erupted in Germany in 2010.
According to SNAP, the Vatican has tolerated and enabled a systematic and widespread practice of concealing sex crimes throughout the world for decades. Seldom has the Vatican meted out significant punishment to priests found guilty of abuse. The accused are routinely transferred to parishes where paedophile behavior continues. Sexual abuse is almost never reported to the police.
But the ICC is unlikely to pursue the case, according to Goran Sluiter, professor of international criminal law at the University of Amsterdam: ‘The case doesn’t stand a chance in my opinion.’
Professor Sluiter points out that the ICC can only try crimes committed after 1 July 2002, the date when it officially began operating as a court of law. “And even if the ICC could handle this case, I wonder whether these qualify as crimes against humanity,” says Sluiter.
But SNAP’s lawyer Pam Spees says she will provide ample evidence that the Vatican’s concealment of rape and shielding of sexual abusers is widespread and systematic, and therefore bears the hallmarks of crimes against humanity.
Spees also asserts that the complaint falls well within the territorial jurisdiction of the ICC, even though the Vatican City State is not a party to the Rome statute that created the Hague court.
“By nature of the church’s worldwide presence these acts are occurring every day in countries that are party to the Rome statute. But the court also has jurisdiction over people who are nationals of countries that are party to the statute. So to the extent that higher-level Vatican officials retain their citizenship in countries like Italy and Germany, the court has jurisdiction over these individuals.”
Highlighting the long reach of the Vatican, another victim addressed the press conference via a Skype connection from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Benjamin Kitobo (44) told journalists he was abused at the age of 13 by a Belgian priest at the Minor Seminary in Kanzenze, Komwezi in the DRC. The priest, Kitobo says, was never punished and is still working with children at a school near Kigali in neighboring Rwanda.
SNAP lawyer Pam Spees says the statute of the ICC is no obstacle to a case against the Vatican, because she has evidence of at least three abuse cases dating after 1 July 2002. These include the case of Megan Peterson (21), who was allegedly abused by a priest in Minnesota, USA in 2004-2005. The priest has been transferred to his native India and is overseeing schools in the diocese of Ootacamund (Tamil Nadu).
Megan said, “I know there were letters back and forth through the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. There were also prior allegations against him before he left. I called the diocese two weeks before he left and I was hung up on. He should have been arrested then.”
Observers are doubtful that the complaint will lead to an indictment but it is not being ignored by the ICC. Following today’s press conference, a victim support worker from the ICC introduced herself to the SNAP president and congratulated her on the work done so far by the victims’ group and its lawyers. She declined to identify herself to the media, but SNAP members said her presence was an acknowledgment that their complaint is being taken seriously. – Radio Netherlands
- Complete Sex Abuse Archive Here
Well may the pope defy “the petty gossip of dominant opinion”. But the Holy See can no longer ignore international law, which now counts the widespread or systematic sexual abuse of children as a crime against humanity. The anomalous claim of the Vatican to be a state – and of the pope to be a head of state and hence immune from legal action – cannot stand up to scrutiny.
The truly shocking finding of Judge Murphy’s commission in Ireland was not merely that sexual abuse was “endemic” in boys’ institutions but that the church hierarchy protected the perpetrators and, despite knowledge of their propensity to reoffend, allowed them to take up new positions teaching other children after their victims had been sworn to secrecy.
This conduct, of course, amounted to the criminal offence of aiding and abetting sex with minors. In legal actions against Catholic archdioceses in the US it has been alleged that the same conduct reflected Vatican policy as approved by Cardinal Ratzinger (as the pope then was) as late as November 2002. Sexual assaults were regarded as sins that were subject to church tribunals, and guilty priests were sent on a “pious pilgrimage” while oaths of confidentiality were extracted from their victims.
In the US, 11,750 allegations of child sex abuse have so far featured in actions settled by archdioceses – in Los Angeles for $660m and in Boston for $100m. But some dioceses have gone into bankruptcy and some claimants want higher level accountability – two reasons to sue the pope in person. In 2005 a test case in Texas failed because the Vatican sought and obtained the intercession of President Bush, who agreed to claim sovereign (ie head of state) immunity on the pope’s behalf. Bush lawyer John B Bellinger III certified that Pope Benedict the XVI was immune from suit “as the head of a foreign state”.
Bellinger is now notorious for his defence of Bush administration torture policies. His opinion on papal immunity is even more questionable. It hinges on the assumption that the Vatican, or its metaphysical emanation, the Holy See, is a state. But the papal states were extinguished by invasion in 1870 and the Vatican was created by fascist Italy in 1929 when Mussolini endowed this tiny enclave – 0.17 of a square mile containing 900 Catholic bureaucrats – with “sovereignty in the international field … in conformity with its traditions and the exigencies of its mission in the world”.
The notion that statehood can be created by another country’s unilateral declaration is risible: Iran could make Qom a state overnight, or the UK could launch Canterbury on to the international stage. But it did not take long for Catholic countries to support the pretentions of the Holy See, sending ambassadors and receiving papal nuncios in return. Even the UK maintains an apostolic mission.
The UN at its inception refused membership to the Vatican but has allowed it a unique “observer status”, permitting it to become signatory to treaties such as the Law of the Sea and (ironically) the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to speak and vote at UN conferences where it promotes its controversial dogmas on abortion, contraception and homosexuality. This has involved the UN in blatant discrimination on grounds of religion: other faiths are unofficially represented, if at all, by NGOs. But it has encouraged the Vatican to claim statehood – and immunity from liability.
This claim could be challenged successfully in the UK and in the European Court of Human Rights. But in any event, head of state immunity provides no protection for the pope in the international criminal court (see its current indictment of President Bashir). The ICC Statute definition of a crime against humanity includes rape and sexual slavery and other similarly inhumane acts causing harm to mental or physical health, committed against civilians on a widespread or systematic scale, if condoned by a government or a de facto authority. It has been held to cover the recruitment of children as soldiers or sex slaves. If acts of sexual abuse by priests are not isolated or sporadic, but part of a wide practice both known to and unpunished by their de facto authority then they fall within the temporal jurisdiction of the ICC – if that practice continued after July 2002, when the court was established.
Pope Benedict has recently been credited with reforming the system to require the reporting of priests to civil authorities, although initially he blamed the scandal on “gay culture”. His admonition last week to the Irish church repeatedly emphasised that heaven still awaits the penitent paedophile priest. The Holy See may deserve respect for offering the prospect of redemption to sinners, but it must be clear that in law the pope does so as a spiritual adviser, and not as an immune sovereign. – The Guardian, Manchester, UK
- Catholic Church pays $77 million to sex abuse victims – Laurie Goldstein
- Chief exorcist says Devil is in the Vatican – Nick Squires
- Fr. Francis Gonsalves tries to sell the Jesuit brand to Indians – Ishwar Sharan
- Sexual depravity in God’s own church – Media Reports
- Buggery and Pope Benedict XVI – Media Reports